Street dance, with guitar

Photo courtesy: Yolit Flamenco
Photo courtesy: Yolit Flamenco

“When you hear a flamenco song, you don’t have to understand the words to feel the emotions,” Yolit Yospe-Kachlon said last week following a four-hour teaching and rehearsal stint at a Rockville dance studio.

Yospe-Kachlon doesn’t just feel the emotions when flamenco musicians sing and play guitar. She dances them. Israeli-born, she grew up on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, about a mile from Gaza, where she worked in the fields and with the cows and began dance lessons at about 7 or 8. “We took the bus from the kibbutz to a big school of dance,” said. “When I was 14, I went to a [boarding] arts school in Mitzpe Ramon in the desert,” she said. By 16, though, her knees were shot.

“I was told never to dance again,” she said, noting that she left the school and its dance program, and returned to her home school intent on finding a form of dance that could accommodate her sensitive knees.

“Someone told me there’s a flamenco class that I should try. I thought to myself, with my knees, and all that stomping — but I gave it a try.” That moment changed her life. “I was 17 when I took my first flamenco class. The first time I stepped into that studio, that was it for me.”

She immersed herself in the dance form born more than 500 years ago in Spain and Portugal from a shifting fusion of migrant populations.

After settling in Rockville 11 years ago, Yospe-Kachlon returned to flamenco, opening a studio in her home and starting a small company this past year. On Saturday evening Yospe-Kachlon will present a traditional flamenco show, a tablao, at the Huckleberry Gallery in Rockville. The dancing is authentic, based on improvisation and deep, unspoken communication between musician and dancer rather than choreographed steps.

“A tablao is a piece of wood that we dance on,” explained the dancer. “It is a very intimate kind of performance: There is no stage, no lights and no curtain. We’re right there, between the people. It’s also not rehearsed like a polished performance.”

This form hearkens back to flamenco’s early roots, which have a surprising Jewish component.

“We call it flamenco puro. It’s the pure form of flamenco that emphasizes improvisation over memorizing steps. The musicians won’t know what I’m dancing and I won’t know exactly what they will be playing. It’s a lot of communication through the dancing and it’s a very important part of flamenco.”

Flamenco, Yospe-Kachlon explained, grew from a collection of influences and cultures. “The gypsies, the gitanos [Romani people living in Spain], left India and went to Russia and Romania, to Arab countries and Morocco,” she explained. “Then they arrived in Spain and Andalucía while the Arabs were starting to leave and going into Morocco and Tangiers. So all these cultures, all these influences, they collected along the way and created this thing that we know today as flamenco.”

Yospe-Kachlon continued: “Jews were living in Spain and Andalucía, and the music and the davening and the melodies were influencing the flamenco music. The dance typically followed the music.”

The important point to note, she said, is that flamenco was not created for big theater stages with fancy costumes and elaborate lighting and scenery. “It was a street dance, a real form of street art. People would stand around and clap, and if they had a guitar they would play or someone would sing and someone would dance.”

The result — everything heard from the window got incorporated into the songs and music. That’s where the Jewish influence entered flamenco, Yospe-Kachlon said. On the street, musicians and dancers would pick up melodies and voices from the synagogue, which they incorporated into their improvisations.

Saturday’s program at Huckleberry Gallery will feature mostly traditional flamenco-styled improvisations. Yospe-Kachlon will be joined by popular Washington, D.C., flamenco dancers Edwin Aparicio and Kyoko Terada, accompanied by musicians Hector Jose Marquez and Ricardo Marlow.

“It doesn’t matter what your background is or your beliefs,” Yospe-Kachlon said. “Flamenco really brings everyone together in a very dear way. It’s a little victory over all the mess that’s going on around the world.”

Tablao, An Evening of Flamenco and Fine Art with Yolit Flamenco, May 7, 7:30 p.m., Huckleberry Fine Art Gallery, 12051 Nebel St., Rockville.

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